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Wednesday, November 27, 2002
Updated: December 2, 10:20 AM ET
Mr. De-Cleater clearly Warren-ts MVP

By Jason Whitlock
Page 2 columnist

It's not that Warren Sapp needs a defense. But it's rather ridiculous that during the very week we should be debating Sapp's credentials for league MVP, Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman has the football nation locked in a discussion about the ethics of a hit Sapp leveled on offensive lineman Chad Clifton.

Warren Sapp
Love him or hate him, Warren Sapp embodies the ferocity that makes the NFL so popular.
Hey, look, Warren Sapp and anyone associated with football regrets that Clifton's season ended on Sapp's de-cleater. No one wants to see a player get injured. But the shot Sapp unleashed on Clifton has been a part of football ever since Bronko Nagurski strapped on a jock and a leather helmet. You can't criticize Sapp for launching Clifton into the middle of the offseason and laud Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis for executing the exact same hit during Chris McCallister's record-setting 107-yard missed field goal return on "Monday Night Football."

Remember that? Remember football historian John Madden slobbering all over himself in breathless excitement as he and Al Michaels replayed and relived Lewis' de-cleater to the delight of a national TV audience?

You think Sapp and every other football player from Cincinnati Bengal to Pop Warner to Pac-10 to NFL didn't watch Lewis unload on a Denver Bronco and fantasize about their next opportunity to cherry-pick an unsuspecting opponent?

Of course they did. That's football. Mike Sherman knows it, and so do the rest of the Packers. Sherman had no business hunting down Sapp after the game to verbalize a complaint about the hit or Sapp's celebration of it. You knock someone off his feet in football, and you're supposed to celebrate. It's more appropriate than most of the end zone dances. Instead of plotting chop-block revenge on Sapp, the Packers need to take video of the hit and Clifton's medical records to the league's competition committee and seek to get position players the same protection afforded quarterbacks on turnovers. The rules prohibit cherry-picking QBs. Perhaps now the league should admit that its players are too big, too strong and too fast for any of its defenseless players to be waylaid on turnovers and returns.

But that issue really has nothing to do with Warren Sapp.

The controversy Sapp should be embroiled in is the argument about the NFL's most valuable player. And in a league in which change is constant and about the only things that are predictable is the league's unpredictability, Marty Mornhinweg's stupidity, Mike Martz's ego and the Cincinnati Ben Gals, Sapp is stating a strong case for MVP.

Chad Clifton
Chad Clifton was just a victim of a man doing his job.
Warren Sapp and the Tampa Bay defense have been so good for so long that we now take them for granted and don't truly appreciate their greatness. Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch, Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber form the only thing you can count on this NFL season, the one thing that shows up week after week without fail and contributes to a winning effort.

Seriously, you never know what's going to happen week to week in the league. The Philadelphia Eagles smoked the 49ers without Donovan McNabb and eventually without Koy Detmer. The Raiders opened the season winning four straight and then lost four straight. The Patriots?!?! Tennessee won five straight and then lost to the Ray Lewis-less Ravens. Why has New Orleans' high-powered offense been shut down in consecutive weeks by the Falcons and the Browns?

The NFL is an Oliver Stone movie on Ecstasy, and ain't no tellin' what the side effects will be. The league is an enigma wrapped in a riddle.

The only thing we don't have to waste time figuring out is that Warren Sapp is really, really good and the leader of the most dominating force in the league. The unit has surrendered 11 TDs all season (Tampa has had two interceptions returned for TDs). That's one a game. The New York Giants' defense has surrendered the second fewest, 18. Tampa's D leads the league with 25 interceptions (the Ravens are second with 19), points allowed per game (11.5) and yards allowed (253.5).

Sapp has 7.5 sacks and is on his way to another double-digit sack season, which is remarkable for an interior lineman. Sapp has two interceptions, another remarkable stat, considering his position. He obviously commands constant double teams and chip blocks. But it's his intensity that makes him great; the same intensity that caused him to challenge Sherman to "put a jersey on" is what permeates the Tampa defensive unit. That intensity is invaluable in a league filled with spoiled, immature millionaires who don't give a professional effort every week.

Priest Holmes
What's up, Holmes? Only Priest's numbers, not his value to his team's success.
Sapp bleeds on every play. That's why Tampa's defense is so consistent. Sapp should be the leading contender for MVP right now. The other candidates don't compare at this moment.

Drew Bledsoe ... nice story, nice numbers. But, in losing three straight, the Bills have averaged 12 points a game.

Brett Favre ... seven interceptions and three TDs in his last two games. Sapp and the Bucs totally embarrassed Favre.

Rich Gannon ... OK, I can't knock Gannon. He's the leader of the best offense in football. But how do you think he'd fare against Sapp and the Bucs?

Michael Vick ... I know it's not his fault -- he has no receivers -- but he's thrown just nine TDs, and when he faced Sapp and the Bucs, Vick totaled 38 yards.

Priest Holmes ... off the heezy fo sheezy. ODP (Old Dirty Priest) is on pace for 1,800 rushing yards, 90 receptions and an NFL record 29 TDs. I'm gonna get killed in Kansas City for writing this, but it's difficult to hand the league's MVP award to a guy on a losing team. You know what? ODP wouldn't be on a losing team if his coaches would give him the freakin' football in critical situations instead of throwing to backup, blocking tight ends on first-and-goal from the 1.

Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for the Kansas City Star (kcstar.com), the host of a morning-drive talk show, "Jason Whitlock's Neighborhood" on Sports Radio 810 WHB (810whb.com) and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of The Sports Reporters. He can be reached at ballstate0@aol.com.